The state’s regional wildlife office is proposing a compromise when it comes to resolving the debate over motorized access along an urban stretch of Whitefish River.
Local officials with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are asking for a seasonal closure instead of a year-round shutdown along the popular recreational artery near the river’s confluence at Whitefish Lake to the trestle bridge at JP Road.
The state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission will address the contentious subject at its meeting in Helena on June 12 and decide whether to follow the City of Whitefish’s recommendation and amend the regulations along the urban stretch of river, prohibiting motorized access.
The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks headquarters.
According to FWP, the current no-wake rule is adequately limiting resource damage and providing a safe environment for non-motorized users, like kayakers. But in light of local support, FWP recommends a seasonal closure from July 5-Sept. 30 instead of a year-round restriction. This would allow anglers the opportunity to fish in the spring and boaters to access the lake to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, while at the same time providing the warm summer months for non-motorized use when the majority of users engage in these activities, according to a staff memo submitted to the commission.
“We feel like it largely accommodates the interest of both parties,” said Jim Satterfield, FWP regional supervisor.
The state received more than 200 written and oral comments during the statewide public scoping period — 105 were opposed and 104 were in favor of restricting part of the river to non-motorized boats. The main issues brought up in public comments involved resource damage, public safety and recreational opportunity, along with the historic use along the river. The Whitefish River has had a no-wake restriction for the proposed section since 1989. As non-motorized use, like stand-up paddleboarding, rises in popularity, city officials have raised concerns about safety in the narrow corridor where motorboats can often travel.
At a public hearing in Whitefish, local opinion swayed heavily in favor of limiting access, with 35 supporters and six opponents.
Whitefish’s city council unanimously voted in favor of restricting access. The proposal, adopted by the city council in November and unanimously approved at its regular meeting on April 14, would amend the current no-wake regulation and restrict the three-mile stretch of river to manually powered vessels like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards or boats with electric motors.
FWP officials asked the commission to extend the public comment period to consider the proposed amendments limiting access seasonally.
The full commission agenda and additional information on the scheduled topics may be found on the FWP website.
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